The New Inquisition | The Nation


The New Inquisition

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Not surprisingly, Caldwell's assessment of Europe, like his assessment of European Muslims, leaves little room for nuance or complexity. He portrays the continent as a racially, culturally and politically homogenous place and its natives as extremely tolerant, respectful of human rights and largely secular. In his view, Europeans naïvely believed that Muslim workers who came after World War II would not stay. They welcomed the immigrants and muted their own concerns because they were afraid to be called racist. Caldwell makes the entire process of immigration seem like a giant hoax devious Muslims perpetrated on innocent Europeans. "European natives," he writes, "have become steadily less forthright, or more frightened, about expressing their opposition to immigration in public."

About the Author

Laila Lalami
Laila Lalami
Laila Lalami, the author of Secret Son and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, is an associate professor of creative...

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Facile explanations for the massacre must be resisted.

Tidy stories reducing the atrocity to a clash of civilizations or a problem with integration are neither enlightening nor satisfying.

But the truth is that Europeans, particularly of the right-wing persuasion, have not been shy at all about opposing immigration. Anti-immigrant sentiment is as old as immigration itself, and Europe is no exception. Over the past few decades, immigration policy has repeatedly been a major theme of general elections in several European countries, including France, Italy and Spain. Still, the typical European one encounters in Reflections is ashamed of his country and unable to stand up to immigrants. Caldwell writes, rather preposterously, "The singing of national anthems and the waving of national flags became, in some countries, the province only of skinheads and soccer hooligans." Elsewhere, he argues that European natives have become so enamored with the idea of multiculturalism that they "know more about Arabic calligraphy and kente cloth" than they know about "Montaigne and Goethe." Of course, this is hyperbole. But strikingly, Caldwell does not wonder how much European Muslims, a great many of whom are graduates of European schools on the continent or outside it, know about these subjects.

While Caldwell blames Muslim immigrants for a range of problems, he reserves part of his scorn for "the spiritual tawdriness" of Europe--which, in his estimation, may be the "biggest liability in preserving its culture." The increasing secularization of Europe caused it to lose its bearings and gradually become vulnerable to "colonization" by "primitive" cultures. "Along the road of European modernization," he writes, "lie the shopping mall, the pierced navel, online gambling, a 50 percent divorce rate, and a high rate of anomie and self-loathing. What makes us so certain that that Europeanization is a road that immigrants will want to travel?" But in fact polls show that attitudes of European Muslims vary from country to country and often display the same regional differences seen among various European publics. For instance, Gallup polls show that Parisian Muslims are more likely than Muslims in Berlin or London to consider adultery "morally acceptable," a pattern that mirrors the larger proportions of native French who find adultery acceptable when compared with Britons or Germans.

For Caldwell, there is a quality of "Europeanness" that, on the one hand, is in danger of being lost because of the mass immigration of Muslims, and, on the other hand, is so idiosyncratic that it is not easily passed to new generations of European Muslims. He appears to suggest that this quality is innate: "[EU expansion] raised hopes that Western European labor needs could be filled by people who more or less thought like Europeans (say, maids from Hungary and machinists from Bulgaria) rather than people who did not (say, maids and machinists from Pakistan and Algeria)." The emphasis is his.

Caldwell argues that intra-European immigration had a higher degree of success because the immigrants who moved within Europe shared religious and cultural beliefs with the natives. Such an optimistic view leaves out inconvenient facts of history. In the early decades of the twentieth century, France brought thousands of Polish workers to its factories and its mines; many lived in suburban ghettos and, despite being Christian, were deemed by the natives to be too attached to their culture and too religious (they were referred to as calotins, or "Holy Joes"). Some French intellectuals and politicians began speaking of "invasion." (Similar accusations were made about Spaniards, Italians and Belgians who later migrated to France.) When the recession of the 1930s put a crunch on the French economy, the government forcibly put Polish immigrants on trains and sent them back home. So the process by which immigrants integrate in European societies has historically been a slow one, even when immigrants "think" like Europeans.

This undiscerning approach leads Caldwell to severe errors of judgment. It is exceedingly disturbing to find so many right-wing leaders receive one form or another of rehabilitation in Reflections. The British conservative politician Enoch Powell--who famously warned that if Britain didn't stop letting in nonwhite immigrants, it would soon be "foaming with much blood"--is described as "morally" wrong but "factually" right. Elsewhere, Caldwell decries the Dutch media's portrayal of the far-right leader Geert Wilders as a "paranoid and sinister bumpkin," while those who speak more conciliatorily about Islam are "spared ridicule." Wilders once compared the Koran with Mein Kampf and proposed that it be banned. This past September, he argued that a tax of 1,000 euros should be levied against Muslim women who wear a headscarf because they "pollute" the landscape.

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